Travel Time Pay: A Clarification

Under California law, an employee must be compensated for all time during which he/she is subject to the “control” of the employer, regardless of whether or not the employee is actually being “suffered or permitted to work.”  Based on this standard, California law (in contrast to the FLSA) does not recognize a distinction for compensability purposes between out-of-town travel that takes place during “normal working hours” and travel that takes place outside of normal working hours. If an employee has to undertake out-of-town travel, all travel time spent on public transportation or in a car is compensable as hours worked (except that where the employee travels to the airport/train station and the airport/train station is the same or substantially similar distance as the employee’s normal commute to the workplace, the time getting to the airport/train station is not compensable).  The employee must be paid for all time from when he/she arrives at the airport until he/she reaches the hotel destination.  After that, the employee need not be paid for time spent staying at a hotel (except to the extent actual work is being performed, of course).  Additionally, if an employee takes a break from “traveling” to engage in personal pursuits (e.g. sightseeing after arriving in city but before going to hotel), that personal time need not be compensated.

California law is similar to that of the FLSA (and DOL guidance) on the issue of compensability of travel time during a normal work day.  In other words, normal commute time from an employee’s home to/from the worksite is not compensable.  This is subject to the caveat that if an employee is required to drive a company vehicle under strict conditions that prevent the employee from engaging in any personal pursuits during their commute (e.g. restrictions that disallow passengers and similar restrictions), the time the employee is required to drive the vehicle will be deemed time that is subject to the control of the employer and, therefore, compensable.  Finally, as is the case under the FLSA, all time spent traveling during the course of the workday (after reporting to the first worksite) is compensable, and if an employee is required to report to a different worksite than usual, the commute time to that workplace is compensable to the extent it exceeds the employee’s normal commute.

Employers are reminded, however, that even in California, they may establish a different rate of pay for travel time than usual work time, as long as the travel rate is at least minimum wage and communicated to the employee before the travel begins


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